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Using the Tongue for Sight - Blind Man Sees With His Tongue

  • Synopsis: Published: 2010-06-03 (Revised/Updated 2015-12-19) - Blind soldier sees with tongue using BrainPort device that converts visual images into a series of electrical pulses. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Ian Langtree at Disabled World.

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Quote: "BrainPort incorporates a miniature camera, attached to a pair of glasses, that converts visual images into a series of electrical pulses."

Blind soldier sees with tongue using BrainPort device that converts visual images into a series of electrical pulses.

British soldier Craig Lundberg of Walton, Merseyside, England was blinded by a by a rocket propelled grenade in Iraq in 2007. He has been fitted with a prototype BrainPort device that converts images from a video camera in his goggles into electrical impulses send to a plate in his mouth that he can read with his tongue.

Lundberg can read words, identify shapes and walk unaided using the BrainPort device.

BrainPort incorporates a miniature camera, attached to a pair of glasses, that converts visual images into a series of electrical pulses. These pulses are then sent directly to Lundberg's tongue, giving off a "pins and needles" sensation via a lollipop-shaped device connected to the camera.

L/Cpl Lundberg said it felt like "licking a nine volt battery or like popping candy. You get lines and shapes of things, it sees in black and white so you get a two dimensional image on your tongue, it's a bit like a pins and needles sensation," he said. "It's only a prototype, but the potential to change my life is massive, it's got a lot of potential to advance things for blind people. One of the things it has enabled me to do is pick up objects straight away, I can reach out and pick them up when before I would be fumbling around to feel for them."

The Ministry of Defense (MoD) selected him to trial the pioneering device which is comprised of a tiny video camera attached to a pair of sunglasses linked to a plastic "lolly pop" which the user places on their tongue to read the electrical pulses.

The Technology:

  • Camera in glasses sends images to base unit in hand-held device
  • Images are translated into stimulation pattern to send to mouthpiece
  • Electrodes on tongue pulse according to lightness of image pixels
  • Users learn to recognize patterns, movement and high-contrast objects

In Montreal, Canada, research is also being conducted on the tongue as a sensory organ for "seeing". Mike Ciarciello has been blind since birth but says that in his dreams he can actually see. His dreams are closer to reality than you might imagine. He is about to participate in an experiment in which he will "see" by using his tongue.

At the University of Montreal, researcher Daniel Chabat prepared Ciarciello to walk for the first time through an obstacle course without his cane. Chabat began by mounting a small camera on Ciarciello's forehead. The camera sends electrical impulses about what it sees to a small grid placed on his tongue.

"It's a concept in which you replace a sense that was lost by another one that is there," said Maurice Ptito, the neuropsychologist supervising the study. "They sense the world through their tongue, and that gives them the feeling of seeing. You don't see with your eyes. You see with your brain."



Related Information:

  1. Robotic Object Recognition to Aid Blind and Visually Impaired - University of Nevada, Reno
  2. OrCam: Technology for the Visually Impaired - Thomas C. Weiss
  3. Seeing Sound: Device Helps Blind to See Using Auditory Signals - California Institute of Technology


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